On the Horizon: COVID-19 Impact on Engaging with Customers

Interview with Michael Jiang, Vice President of Kerry in Greater China

Michael Jiang, Vice President of Kerry in Greater China, talks to us about how COVID-19 has impacted how we engage with customers. He explains how we are can better work with our customers and provide the service and insight that they need in this challenging and ever-changing environment. Consumer insight is also becoming more important and shifting consumer priorities will have a significant impact on the food and beverage products that we produce in the future.

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Interview notes:

Damien: It looks like the future is about innovation and heavily about innovation in nutrition, but also in taste. How you are working with our customers to help them recover their business as China starts to exit this COVID-19 crisis?

Michael: In the past 100 days, we went through three stages. We are now in the recovery stage. We have to help our customers recover and resume production. When our customers start to resume production and we also resume production, we have to have very close communication with our customers. We understand their planning, their schedule and their top priorities. Our customers even find it hard to plan week by week, so they may change day to day. So the way we do it is, we communicate with the team on the customer side to understand their needs. Meanwhile, internally, we have to find a way to support them. When we came back to work, we found that the supply chain is very important. We were just back from the Spring festival, with not much in stock. We just resumed production and we had to make sure that every supply chain was running smoothly. But the challenge is that people are isolated and it’s very hard to find enough drivers to drive the trucks to deliver goods to our customers. Our learning is that we have to think in advance every day. We have to think about our customer needs and think a little bit earlier about our customers. That’s the way to help our customers to resume their production and recover.

Damien: Michael, what are your key learnings are managing relationships with suppliers in this next normal world of COVID-19?

Michael: I think that we had some good relationships with our core business before, but especially during the COVID-19. I think that managing the relationship is crucial, because we need to stand at our customer’s side to understand what exactly their challenges are. What exactly do they need? So once we understand, we have to know how to support them. That’s why we need, every day, to communicate with our customers. If we don't understand what exactly they need or what's their top priority, it's very hard to manage that relationship. We have to understand what they're planning. Let me give you some examples. When we communicated with our core customers, as they resumed production, they needed some goods very urgently. But we had not resumed production yet. We had the raw materials and our customer’s other suppliers were running their operations. So, we worked together with our customer, their suppliers and our supply chain. We're working together to see how we can help our customer get the materials on time. We have to cooperate with their suppliers, who may be our competitors. This, I would say, is the mindset that we have to change, especially in COVID-19. The CEO of one of our key customers said that a great company has to learn how to make money, but at this stage we have to learn how not to make money. For me, this message is very powerful. It's very powerful to the consumer. It's very powerful to employees and also very powerful to our suppliers. We have to not use our previous thinking, but we have to think about how to support our customers and be creative.

Damien: Michael, in a sense you and China, and Kerry in China, are in the future that many of us wish to be in. That is, moving beyond and I'm seeing an opening up, post the COVID-19 crisis. What do you think our future in the food industry looks and feels like post COVID-19?

Michael: In China in the past 100 days, people’s behaviour, their purchasing behaviour, their insights, their mindset, their lifestyle, they are all being adapted. So, I would say after COVID-19, we have to understand the consumer insight. First of all, people will have to know that everything is safe. Secondly, people realise that health and wellness is very important in their life. Thirdly, for the past 100 days, people have been staying at home for a long time, so people will need emotional healing. That’s insights from the consumer. Usually we understand customer needs, but I think in post COVID-19, we have to understand the consumer insights. Then we have to help our customers to develop the right products for consumers. For example, safe delivery. Delivery will be the trend in the future. In COVID-19, no touching is the model, so delivery becomes very important. How do we help our customer to develop delivery products which taste good after 30 minutes? That’s very important. And the second is health and wellness. We have to help our customer. I believe this is the future. Every day now we see more immunity concepts. That’s the trend. Functionality, health, wellness. That’s the future. And the last one I’m talking about is emotional healing. After people stay at home, they are really looking for some indulgent products. Ice cream with different tastes, flavoured alcoholic drinks. So indulgent products will be in the future as well. I believe if we focus on these areas, they will be the future trends.

Damien: That's very profound. It's a very profound set of changes. Michael, thank you for being with us today and for sharing your insights.

About Michael Jiang:

Mr. Michael Jiang is the Vice President & General Manager of Kerry China. Mr. Jiang graduated from the Department of Chemistry of Fudan University in 1989. He joined Kerry China as general manager in early 2014. Prior to that, Michael has accumulated over 20 years of experience in the food ingredients and flavour industry, working in companies such as Tate & Lyle and Firmenich. Michael has accumulated comprehensive management experience in various fields, including production, quality and supply chain. As the Vice President & General Manager of Kerry China, Michael is committed to bringing Kerry's "Taste & Nutrition" to Chinese consumers and making Kerry a leader in the industry with regard to social responsibility.

To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviours, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.

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